Ponderosa music and arts festival founders Kia Zahrabi and Kris Hargrave stood helpless like many others as wildfires raged through the South Okanagan last summer.
The two were forced to cancel what would have been the grass-roots festival’s third year.
“It was not a fun day for us, it was brutal. We were at the fairgrounds the Wednesday, the festival was starting Friday. We were trying to see what we could do, making phone calls, possibly having to relocate last minute,” Zahrabi said. “It was a pretty wild ride. A lot of it was kind of a blur. It was a hard decision to make. We tried everything we could to keep it going but in the end our hands were tied.”
It was safety concerns with fires still burning nearby that put the final nail in the coffin for the third year of the Ponderosa festival.
“We had to pull the plug. We had to make phone calls to all the people involved, not just our core team, but all the agents and band members and all the contractors we have. We got through it and we learned a hell of a lot in a short period of time, but whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So we just keep on moving ahead,” Zahrabi said.
With renewed optimism Zahrabi and Hargrave are returning to put on the festival, recently announcing the return to Rock Creek Aug. 19 to 21.
“We’re not dwelling on the past, we’re looking at this year, we’re looking at helping out the community as well,” Zahrabi said.
While the two faced a tough financial decision to go ahead with the festival again this year, they knew the effects of the fires were more devastating to local families.
“Obviously we were impacted, but families that lost their homes were lot more impacted than we were,” Zahrabi said.
Both are somewhat local boys; Hargrave grew up just outside Rock Creek and Zahrabi is from Oliver. They felt the need to step up and support the community that had hosted the festival the two years prior.
The festival connected with Habitat for Humanity and held a fundraiser in Vancouver on Nov. 14, raising just over $5,000 ,which went directly to the Rock Creek rebuild efforts, helping rebuild a home for a local family. Construction for that home starts in April, and Zahrabi and Chris plan to be there and help out however they can.
A portion of proceeds from ticket sales at this year’s festival will also go towards the same rebuild efforts. Locals attending the festival can attend by donation as well, with all the donated money going towards the rebuilding efforts for those affected by the fires.
“We feel like we’re part of the community and want to help the community. We’re want to keep it close to home. We’re not the kind of festival that will come into the area and just leave and not have a positive impact. We want to actually contribute to the community,” Zahrabi said.
Getting a crowd out to the festival is important in the early years. Zahrabi said it is a balancing act as the festival doesn’t have the buying power to bring in top-bill headlining acts, but simultaneously needs to bring in a crowd with local B.C. talent to stay financially sustainable.
“That’s a big part of the whole vision is keeping it small, keeping it grass roots,” Zahrabi said. “The idea for the festival is not to get massive either.
“For us it’s about quality not quantity and to stay true to the local, B.C., intimate vibe. That’s what sets us apart from the bigger, corporate festivals.”
They want to provide something more than a big, corporate festival with a lot of big-name acts, but it hasn’t been easy with the two wearing many hats in the organization of the festival, working with a core team of supporters.
“There are a lot of nay sayers out there. People might say ‘you guys have to look at the financials.’ And yeah, we are aware of those things, but we really believe in what we’re doing. It’s never been about the money for us, and I think that’s what makes things different,” Zahrabi said. “We want to create a place where year after year people can come and have that reunion with friends and family. It’s more special than money, you can’t really put a value on it.”
Vaelei Walkden-Brown, owner of the 557 Artist Block at 262 Main Street, upstairs from Peaches Lingerie, is putting on a fundraiser in support of the festival on Feb. 27. Music will be played throughout the day during regular business hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Artist Block with refreshments available and members of the Ponderosa Festival board present as well.
Local musicians including Mathieu Joseph Drolet-Duguay, The Inheritors, Evan Robillard, Lowell Friesen, Farron Hughes and Will Schlackl will provide tunes during the day.
A live mural painting is taking place in collaboration with Ponderosa Festival arts director Amelia Moylan during the day.
Surprise guest bands are set to play the ticketed evening event which will cost $10 with proceeds going towards the festival.
Early bird tickets for the Ponderosa Music and Arts Festival are $99 per person and include three full days of music, camping and parking. Early bird tickets are on sale now at ponderosafestvial.com and are expected to sell out fast. Regular three-day ticket prices will increase to $129 afterwards.
The full list of acts is set to be announced at Ponderosa’s annual jean shorts-themed lineup launch party currently set for early May.